My Favourite Top End Scottish Hotels

by Robin.McKelvie

Scotland has no shortage of luxurious hotels - but here, after careful consideration, are the ultimate retreats that are guaranteed to impress

After a decade and a half as a travel writer, having visited over 80 countries, it takes a lot to impress me. I stay in hotels for a living and there are so many supposedly ‘luxurious’ hotels that frankly disappoint. There are, though, a handful of oases in my native Scotland that really get my pulse racing, perfect venues for some serious indulgence.
 The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh is, for me, the ultimate city escape. Slap bang in the middle of the Scottish capital, the views from this grand old dame are a stunning collage of Old and New Town. This charming relic of the heyday of the British rail network boasts plenty of history of its own, having first opened back as far as 1902. The Balmoral Hotel is not one, though, to sit on its hard won laurels and it is bang up to date these days, with wifi in the rooms and flat screen TVs. Nice touches include a harp player providing an extra something at afternoon tea, Scotland’s only dedicated champagne bar and a brilliant spa.
Only four miles south of Edinburgh’s ring road, Dalhousie Castle Hotel and Spa is a grand castle dominating the surrounding countryside. Guests can stay in the room where Edward I plotted William Wallace’s defeat at Falkirk the following day or roam the ramparts that Oliver Cromwell enjoyed patrolling after succeeding, where Henry IV had failed, in taking the castle. Then there are the connections with Queen Victoria, Sir Walter Scott... the list goes on. The 27 bedrooms are awash with tartan, twill and tweed, though the décor manages to stay on the right side of cheesy. Be sure to book a room with a view of either the Pentland Hills or across the grounds and the River Esk. The highlights are the 14 rooms renovated with a historic theme. There are additional rooms in the estate lodges, but the castle is the place to stay. Extras include the excellent French/Scottish restaurant in the atmospheric dungeon and the Aqueous Spa with its massage treatments, Roman sauna and Turkish bath.
The Castle Venlaw Hotel, just outside the Borders town of Peebles was taken over by debonair Frenchman Pierre-Alban Guy’s innovative new Pag Hotels group in 2007. There are only 12 rooms so guests have an acre of grounds each. The welcoming staff ensure real personal service and nothing is too much trouble. On the eating front, the restaurant’s local beef and lamb combine with an impressively flexible chef to make for a memorable experience. Book one of the refurbished rooms that boast lovely big baths, complete with starry ceiling lighting and champagne coolers.
Ardanaiseig Hotel in Argyllshire, to the west of Glasgow, has been voted Scotland’s most romantic hotel and it is easy to see why. A stunning recent arrival is the Boatshed, which just may be the most romantic hotel ‘room’ in Scotland. Guests pootle down from reception on their own private golf buggy to the loch. The split-level modern suite boasts a floor-to-ceiling window with a telescope, a huge scarlet sofa, a dining table, kitchenette and a cozy love-nest bed upstairs. There is a large flat screen TV, but staff report that most guests don’t spend too much time watching it.
Since being taken over by Kohler, the multi-award winning Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa in St Andrews has just got better and better. One of Scotland’s most respected hotel managers, Debbie Taylor, has been poached from the Balmoral in Edinburgh and millions of dollars have been spent upgrading the rooms and public areas, in particular the spa. Golf fanatics should be sure to book a room with a golf course view and a balcony to enjoy the action as it unfolds just yards away on the 17th fairway and up on to the world famous 18th. Highlights in the revamped Kohler Waters Spa include arguably the finest stone spa massage in Scotland and the signature ‘Highland Fling’, a 50-minute revitalizing water treatment. The suites are excellent – book one with a Kohler spa bath for the full luxury experience, and enjoy a wee dram as you toast a country that boasts a wealth of luxury hotels that seldom disappoint.